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Criminal Threats

California established a crime of threatening to seriously injure or kill another person, this offense is called "criminal threats" under California Penal Code 422 (a). This offense is constituted when a person has intention to place someone in actual fear of being injured or killed. In others words, putting someone in fear could be considered a crime in California.

The California Penal Code defined the following rule:

" Any person who willfully threatens to commit a crime which will result in death or great bodily injury to another person, with the specific intent that the statement, made verbally, in writing, or by means of an electronic communication device, is to be taken as a threat, even if there is no intent of actually carrying it out, which, on its face and under the circumstances in which it is made, is so unequivocal, unconditional, immediate, and specific as to convey to the person threatened, a gravity of purpose and an immediate prospect of execution of the threat, and thereby causes that person reasonably to be in sustained fear for his or her own safety or for his or her immediate family's safety, shall be punished by imprisonment in the county jail not to exceed one year, or by imprisonment in the state prison."

In sum, a criminal threat is constituted in the moment that you had intention to threaten someone and you put the victim in actual fear. In order for a person being convicted of this offense, the victim had to believe and fear that the defendant was willing to physically harm or kill her/him. Even if you did not intent to injure someone, you still can be charged of criminal threats just for putting someone in actual fear.


  • You approached your ex-wife in the middle of the street and say that you are going to kill her and the new boyfriend.
  • You sent your ex-boyfriend a text message, you dumped me, now you are going to regret, I know where you live and I still have your apartment keys.
  • You sent your former boss a text saying that he is going to regret of his decision to fired you, and said you better watch your back, I know where you live.
  • Calling someone every day, at the same time, and saying that you are going to stab her.
  • In order for someone being convicted of criminal threats, the prosecution must show and prove the following elements/facts into court: 
  • The defendant intentionally threatened to injure or kill the victim.
  • The defendant verbally, electronically or written communicated the threat to the victim.
  • The victim believed without doubt on the specific intent to injure or kill him/her.
  • The victim reasonably feared for his/her own safety or his/her family. 

Let's explain in details those elements of criminal threats for better comprehension. These conditions are essential for someone being convicted of this offense, if the prosecution does not prove these elements, a person should not be convicted of criminal threats.  San Diego Criminal Attorney will work to prove the innocence of its clients.

Intentionally threatened to injure or kill the victim.

The main element that prosecution must prove is the intention of the defendant in threatening the victim. The defendant does not need to injure or kill  the victim  to be guilty of criminal threat, so long as there was a serious threat to physical harm the victim.

Verbally, electronically or written communicated the threat to the victim.

Under Penal Code, in order to consider a crime, the prosecution must prove that the defendant actually threaten the victim, meaning that the threat must be in written, verbal or electronically communicated. Courts already held that vulgar gestures and expressions are not enough to constitute threat in California.

The victim believed without doubt on the specific intent to injure or kill him/her

As explained above, it is just considered a criminal threat offense, if someone puts the victim in fear for her safety or her family. Further, if the victim does not take the threat seriously or the threat was not immediate, the defendant could not be guilty of this offense. To determinate whether the victim feared the defendant’s threat, the prosecution must bring evidence into court that prove the actually fear, for instance, the victim after the threat called the police, or hided herself, hired more security guard or bought security camera could show the victim’s fear.

The crime will occur so long as the victim believes on the ability of immediately to carry out a threat and they are fearful.


Mike went to her ex-wife's house and found that she has a new boyfriend. Mike had his hand on his pocket and threaten to shoot her and the boyfriend. Anna believed that Mike had a shotgun, but he didn’t.

In this case, Mike could be guilty of criminal threat, since he threatens Anna and she actual feared from his statement.

Under the California Penal Code section 422 (a), established that the threat needs to be unequivocal, immediate, specific and unconditional to make the victim believe of the execution of the threat.  Moreover, the threat must be real, immediate, unequivocal and not depending on a condition. However, sometimes a condition could be actual real threat:  “when you get home, I will kill you”, but if the condition is going to be hard to fulfill, for instance, “I will kidnapping your daughter if you don’t do what I want”, but actually the victim does not have a daughter yet, in this scenario, it is hard to meet a condition.  Also, empty threats could lead a person to a criminal threat condition, if the victim actual believes that the threat will carry out, even if the defendant did not have intent to complete conduct of carrying the threat out.


The offense of corporal injury can be charged as either misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the circumstances of the case and the defendant's criminal background. This is called wobbler in California, the prosecution has an option to charge the defendant with either misdemeanor or felony.  Further, if prosecutors charge our client a wobbler as a felony, the can reduce the penalty to a misdemeanor sentencing.

A misdemeanor is punishable by a fine not exceeding six thousand dollars ($6,000) or by imprisonment in the county jail not exceeding one year, or misdemeanor probation, or the fine, imprisonment and probation.

However, if someone was charged as a felony, the penalties could be aggravated depending on the facts of the case, a felony is punishable by a fine not exceeding ten thousand dollars ($10,000) or by imprisonment in county jail not from two (2) years to four (4) years, and a felony probation, or both fine, imprisonment and the probation.

Legal Defenses

A criminal threat is a wobbler in California Law, meaning that a person could face a felony or a misdemeanor conviction, if a person is convicted with this type of crime, the conviction is going to be on the person's criminal records. If you are looking for a job and the employer does a criminal background check and there is a domestic violence offense register, it is likely that the employer won't hire someone with a misdemeanor or felony background.  If you have been charged with this offense, you should promptly look for a Lawyer. San Diego Criminal Attorney has a great deal of success defending our clients and we can help you build legal defenses that it could be use to contest these types of charges. If you would like more information, please contact our successful staff to help you with your legal problems. 

To contest the charges of criminal threats, San Diego Criminal Attorney would be able to use the following legal defenses:

  • The threat was vague or not immediate

California Court already had decided, if the threat is too vague or not immediate, the defendant could not be guilty of criminal threat. The threat must be specific and real, if you say someday get mad at your teacher for no reason and said “I’m going to get you back”, this statement is too vague and not immediate. In this type of case, San Diego Criminal Attorney could build a strong argument to defend you.

  • The victim hadn’t fear

In some cases, the victims are not scared and did not fear the defendant’s threat to hurt or kill the victim. Sometimes, the victim believed that the defendant is not capable of executing the threat or believed that the statement was a joke. To constitute the crime of criminal threat, the victim must be fearful of the threat made, if the victim was not afraid of the threats, the defendant should not be guilty of this specific offense.  For example, if the you threaten to kill your ex-wife, but she knows that you are not capable of and laugh at you. You should not be guilty of criminal threat, since the victim was not scared of you.

  • Wrongly accused

Under the rules of California Law, it is too easy for a victim falsely accuse another of committing this crime, sometimes the cause of action is out of anger, revenge or jealousy. However, San Diego Criminal Attorney know how to protect its clients from wrongfully accusations. If this is your case, contact an attorney promptly.

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